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Wild turkeys are Michigan's comeback kids

Posted at 6:00 PM, Dec 23, 2021

LANSING, Mich. — After becoming completely extinct in Michigan, wild turkeys are one of conservationists favorite comeback stories.

Today they live comfortably out in forests and suburban groves like the ones found in the Lansing area— but that wasn't always the case.

“Once settlement happened and the logging boom happened in Michigan, it decimated the turkey population as basically we think it went all the way down to zero that turkeys were extirpated entirely from Michigan," said Rachel Leightner a wildlife outreach coordinator with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

She says that the combination of unregulated hunting and the destruction of the turkey's habitats through logging and development were to blame for their extinction in the state.

“So with no habitat and too many turkeys being taken away, essentially wiped out the entire turkey population here in Michigan," she said.

It took a two-pronged approach to see these feathered friends back in Michigan.

“We purchased 50 turkeys from Pennsylvania. There was a turkey farm there and we released them in a couple of different sites throughout 1954 to 1957," she said. "Most of them, the release sites were around Allegan, Baldwin, Gladwin and Mayo.”

Each of those sites had forestry district, Leightner says. So the birds had habitats in which to roost. That was step one.

“Then we also were managing the habitat so that once we released these turkeys, they were able to find food and shelter to be able to make it through those harsh Michigan winters," she said.

It took about 10 years for the bird population to increase.

“It's been a successful reintroduction and we've got approximately 200,000 turkeys in Michigan right now," Leightner said.

Today organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Fish and Wildlife Service and even hunters are a big part of turkey conservation— buying hunting licenses funds some of the efforts.

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